Book review: Rags, Paper and Pins by Mark James and Jim Cornette

Rags Paper and Pins The Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling

by Jim Cornette and Mark James

available from and

If you are finding yourself even the least bit jaded by the current mainstream wrestling product sometimes a trip down memory lane can be just what the doctor ordered. Clearly with the launch of the WWE network there seems to be a big interest in the huge video library the McMahons have contained, and that is because there is something unmistakable about the territory days. The glory days of the Memphis wrestling territory are really on display in the great book “Rags, Paper and Pins The Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling” by Jim Cornette and Mark James.

In fact, the famed wrestling manager Cornette is going into detail about his time as a fan and how he broke into the business, which is as fascinating a tale to fill a book by itself. There are also complete reprints of Cornette’s early work as writer and photographer for various publications such as Championship Wrestling magazine, which again is worth every penny.

Cornette, James and Jerry Jarrett give introductions to set the tone for this most respectful analysis of the history of merchandising specifically in regards to the Memphis area, which as an included map shows, actually incorporates numerous other towns and states.

To think that these relatively small promotions were able to have 1,000 fans regardless, and that was often considered a bad turnout, week after week. It is hard to imagine compiling a roster, presenting a product, and securing an audience that could have that kind of sustainability this day in age. Regardless, credit is given to Jerry Jarrett’s mother, Christine (Jeff’s grandmother) for the “picture tables” as they were called in the day and it again is startling to think of how much money 50 cent programs and $1.00 photographs were raking in at that point in time in that magical region.

At one point Cornette, who had broken in taking and selling photographs, after being consistently in attendance and buying up all of the available merchandise himself, quips about the merchandise table sales in Louisville, KY, “…if the night’s take was less than $2,000, we wondered what was wrong.”

This makes me realize how much a variety of affordable merchandise is essential to independent wrestling shows these days, but I will save that issue for a later day.
There are many great, forgotten characters of yesteryear looked upon fondly in this hefty book.

Even with my copious research of wrestling history I was not familiar with Pat Malone, but I tell you that the accompanying picture of him with a bear “Ginger” and a big whomping stick create a perfect alibi for the text that Cornette and James provide.

There are also those that I am considerably more familiar with, such as Jerry “the King” Lawler and “Superstar” Bill Dundee, but again the unique historical perspective from such knowledgeable wrestling historians really paints wildly contrasting
images that I rarely got a chance to see growing up. I would be remiss if I did not mention Jimmy Hart, honestly I first became aware of him as manager of the Hart Foundation in the WWF, but clearly the guy was causing all kinds of trouble (all the while doing tireless promotion behind the scenes) in Memphis for Lawler (and many others) for years and years.

It was fascinating as always to read more about the legendary Sputnik Monroe, and I wonder how there could be any sort of Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame that did not include Sputnik as a revolutionary figure from the sport of kings. Dutch Mantell, Tommy Rich, Terry Funk, Eddie Gilbert, Austin Idol, the Fabulous Ones, Kimala, Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey are all featured in the magazine reprints, but there are also names like Lou Thesz, Mr Wrestling II, The Sheik, Gene Kiniski, Bruno Sammartino and of course the late, great Jackie Fargo that get a fair share of space, so this is a very well rounded out publication.

Some nice features on recently departed master of scientific wrestling, Billy Robinson, are included as well.

I live and grew up in Arizona, so the geographic location of Memphis as a topic for this book does not hold any particular allegiance or affiliation. That being said I am sure that people from the area would be overjoyed to have such a rich, passionate retelling of the legends that made the area so unique. Furthermore, the insight that Jim Cornette gives into the real nuts and bolts of trying to run a profitable part of the business, be it selling photos, making a magazine or selling everything from Frisbees to calendars and keychains at the merchandise table, there is a wealth of information for students of the game, creative team members, or just astute fans in general. As a final note, both Cornette and James claim that there will be more book collaborations like this in the future, so please take some time to let them know which area you would be interested in seeing most in this book format in the future.

Robert Murillo
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